The Olympic Games and the upcoming soccer World Cup draw the interest of millions of viewers. Which in itself is a good thing, as sport brings people together. However, the excessive enthusiasm must be tempered when knowing the corruption that plays behind the screen.
The global illicit gambling market moves up to 1.7 trillion (millions of millions) of dollars every year around the world and international agreements are urgently needed to curb this corruption, said a study by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in Vienna.
Sport "contributes to peace, enables sustainable development, creates jobs and plays a fundamental role in promoting health and lifestyles," UNODC Executive Director Ghada Waly stressed at the report's launch. “But in our increasingly globalized world, sport is exposed to complex risks posed by corrupt actors seeking to exploit it for illicit profit. Corruption strips sport of its positive and transformative power,” she added.
This first study, prepared in collaboration with 200 experts from governments, the world sports, the private sector and academia, revealed “the surprising magnitude, manifestation and complexity of corruption and organized crime in sports at the global, national and regional levels.”
The report acknowledges that criminal acts in sports are not a new phenomenon, since fraudulent activities have existed since the old Olympic Games, but it reveals a "substantial increase" so far in the 21st century.
The transformation of sports in recent decades has acted as a catalyst for the size and scale of illicit activity to increase, and the involvement of organized crime organizations has become widespread.
These criminal networks are linked to the manipulation of competitions, corruption in sport organizations, illegal gambling, money laundering, human and migrant trafficking, smuggling, illicit drug trafficking and other crimes.
Globalization, the enormous influx of money, the rapid growth of legal and illegal sport betting, and technological advances make sports increasingly attractive to criminal groups seeking to exploit them for profit.
For example, the advent of sport betting led to the creation of networks to bribe, coerce and threaten referees, players and club leaders to ensure certain results, "without the trend sparing any country, discipline or level of games", according to the study.
The UNODC launched the report to urge international action to contain these criminal practices, based on the 2003 UN Convention against Corruption and the 2000 UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime.
Among the policies and measures, that it recommends to governments and sport organizations, is strengthening legal, political and institutional frameworks, and developing and applying comprehensive anti-corruption policies. For example, it calls for "clearly adopted comprehensive legislation prohibiting all forms of violence, including the sale and sexual exploitation of children, in all contexts, including sport."
The need for preventive measures is highlighted, including the promotion of education and awareness on these issues at events for children, youth and adults.
Likewise, greater cooperation and exchange of information between sport entities, crime prevention and criminal justice authorities and political leaders, in addition to developing the capacities of the agents dedicated to confronting these criminal schemes, should be empowered.
The report was presented ahead of the biennial UN meeting against corruption, the Conference of the States Parties to the UN Convention against Corruption, which was held in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, from last December 13-17. Concrete results are expected.